Rebecca Verhoeff is Executive Vice President at Best Collateral, Inc., a specialty finance company with a retail component serving customers in 9 locations throughout California.
In this guest post, she relates how her company has increased engagement starting in an unlikely area - document management.
We're a process-and-policy driven business in a heavily regulated industry of specialty finance. With more than 75 employees in 9 locations, communication has always been a challenge. Many of our written communications and policies need constant updates.
In the past, we relied on managers and faxes in a trickle-down approach to communication:
Managers would send what we call "Daily Rah Rahs," which are reports on daily sales and loan activity. But these reports were only circulated in email to the management team. Employees weren't getting the information consistently, so they couldn't celebrate successes, participate in discussions, or gain insights from business trends.
The company's daily productivity results were faxed to all stores, then posted to bulletin boards. Communication was limited to what was on the fax. No one could say, "Hey! Good job!" Or, "Hey, we need to do this differently." This was a one-way, impersonal dialogue!
There was a gap between what we communicated to managers and what employees actually heard.
We needed to bridge that gap with one repository—a single place where people could go and access relevant information to their roles.
We knew if we could continue to facilitate better communications, we could continue to grow the business, serve customers, and attract and retain great employees.
Our search led us to Communifire.
We do have an internal IT resource, but I didn't want him focused on this. We wanted a role-based document management system that was pretty plug-and-play, so I or anyone could manage content, without involving IT.
My concern with traditional document management systems was I didn't think people would use them. I realized the user adoption value in Communifire's social media interface. Without the interactive components, most people would rather just ask management for the document they need. Communifire combines document management with social media and community. I found its Facebook-like interface really attractive. I thought it would be more engaging for our personnel, many of whom are 20 to 30 years of age.
We have a lot of policies and processes that our team members must follow to the letter. My objective was to simplify that process. I didn't want separate systems for HR documents and store documents.
What if someone says something inappropriate in chat? HR compliance is a huge issue for us. I was a little concerned at first. We even considered turning chat off. But the reality is, we can't read every email employees create. If employees want to do something inappropriate, there are many less obvious ways for them do so. This social platform is pretty open and visible. I think we've built the kind of culture where there would be a negative reaction if anyone conducted themselves in an inappropriate manner within this forum. Peer pressure can be a very positive motivator!
"Not another system to learn and use!" One of our senior managers was pretty skeptical at first. "One more system, one more thing to do." He wasn't used to using social media to begin with. But we started off using just the document management tools, so most employees got it right away. When managers saw the results of the improved communication and access to documents in one central place, they started to get it, too.
I know an employee doesn't want to hear about "building and reinforcing a better culture." That messaging wasn't going to work. But I knew we could entice them with usable information, such as, "Guess what—we just changed the pay plan!" It doesn't matter how fun it is. People won't go there unless there's a reason.
Before we invited people to participate, I spent a couple weeks uploading content I knew they'd find valuable, deciding whether to put it into documents or the Wiki, creating information hierarchies, designing the look and feel of the home page, setting up workspaces, and allocating certain people and roles. We had to think outside the box a bit. The team at Communifire supported us at every step.
We told managers, "It's still a daily requirement for you to post your ‘Rah Rahs,' or store status reports, but you can no longer do it via email. You must do it on the intranet so everyone can see and participate." Once employees saw management posting and sharing, everyone loosened up. People felt it was okay to participate. Today we don't have to ask managers to post rah-rahs, as our staff are so engaged and excited to contribute that they do it themselves.
We have a bookmark on all the terminals. Some management staff are also doing it through their phones and tablets.
One thing I tried to do early on was to not force everything to be business-focused. We celebrate birthdays on Communifire. We celebrate company anniversaries. If an employee has a child or something special happens, we celebrate that on their behalf. When you play into the social media aspect by making it relatable and not necessarily only sales-driven, people are naturally more inclined to engage. I knew this would be successful when I saw people starting to choose their own pictures and personalizing their profiles.
We've gone so far beyond faxed copies on a bulletin board. People can find all the information they need at work:
For our employees, this is a no-brainer. They absolutely love interacting with Communifire. This makes it an effective document management tool, because they're already working here. The tipping point was when staff started creating wall posts on their own. Even managers realized we were on to something.
I'm quite proud of our employees. There have been positive interactions across the board. People are moderating and policing themselves. It's like positive peer pressure. I've seen their increased engagement levels not only throughout the company, but amongst peers, many of whom have never met in person:
We put all our new employees through sales training after they become accredited jewelry professionals. Prior to Communifire, there wasn't a great way for us to reinforce the training. Now we're enabling employees to train and coach each other on things like up-sells and add-on sales. Our individual stores are routinely sharing their specific marketing promotions, which creates momentum and excitement, but also drives a fun and healthy bit of competition.
Advice to other leaders:
I think it's important to come up with a common goal that's proportionate to the size of your organization. How can you get enough collective buy-in? We needed to identify the very specific issues and needs and tackle it from there.
We needed to find a better way to distribute information and store documents so people could access timely and accurate information. For us, those were the real issues. That's where we started.
Find your champions and your high adopters at the top. Start with them, and the enthusiasm will catch on.
It's only been a year, but Communifire has allowed us to develop our culture better than anything we've tried before.
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Tim is a co-founder and president of Axero and the author of his forthcoming book, Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Break Down the Invisible Barriers to Employee Engagement. He's spilt insightful ink on the pages of Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur.com, CNBC, Today, and other top publications.
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